"After Dark" was first published in Japan in 2004, and was translated into English by Jay Rubin in 2008.
The book opens up in an `amusement district'- an area dedicated to gaming centres, karaoke clubs and bars. It's approaching midnight and - while plenty of others are enjoying themselves loudly - Mari Asai is sitting alone in a Denny's Restaurant. She's apparently missed the last train home - almost deliberately, by the looks of things - although she still occasionally glances towards her watch. She doesn't appear to be expecting any company either - she's buried in a book, nursing a coffee and occasionally lighting a cigarette and buried in a book. (Mari lights a lot of cigarettes, but she doesn't do much smoking...they tend to burn themselves out in the ashtray.) However, Mari isn't left alone for long, however - she's joined by a lanky young man called Tetsuya Takahashi. The pair had met a couple of years before at a swimming pool - a friend of Takahashi's was dating Mari's glamourous and beautiful sister, Eri.
Takahashi and Eri had been in class together for a year, but they never spoke - she never gave him the time of day. By the sounds of things, he and Mari didn't speak much on the date either - despite being Japanese, Mari spent most of her time speaking Chinese. The pair communicate a little better this time round, though Takahashi initially won't give his name. However, when he finally leaves for band practice, Takahashi leaves his mobile number and promises to be back around 5am...despite Mari's apparent coolness towards him. Nevertheless, Mari doesn't get left alone for too long - she's soon joined by Koaru, who works at a nearby `love hotel' called the Alphaville. (They tend to be `Big in Japan'). Koaru is obviously an acquaintance of Takahashi's - though she's a little circumspect about how they met. She has a problem, though - there's a Chinese girl at her hotel, "in a mess", and Takahashi has told her that Mari is fluent in Chinese. Koaru wants to find out what happened - but she needs someone who can translate for her...
Meanwhile Eri is at home in a very deep sleep - so deep and pure, it's just not normal. She's in for a very strange night, though - despite being unplugged, her tv comes on at midnight. The picture, when it finally settles, shows a large empty room - most likely, an office or a classroom. There's only one person in the room - a man, sitting on the room's only chair, apparently deep in thought. Where most people would be happy enough to meet a television star, this is one you'd really rather avoid.
The book's events take place over a single night, with Mari and Eri proving to be the two key characters...though I did enjoy Mari's story more. (Takahashi and Koaru proved two very likeable supporting characters - I finished the book hoping that Mari kept in touch with both. However, there are one or two others who aren't quite so agreeable). Eri's story was a little strange, a little like something that might have been used for `The Twilight Zone'. It was a little frustrating that there was no real explanation of what was happening to her, or what man in the television set wanted...but "After Dark" is a short, easily read and enjoyable book overall.
on 21 May 2009
My third Murakami novel, and for a while I thought it might be one I positively enjoyed. There is some humour here, and I was able to understand some of the cultural references. Murakami deceptively laces his work with Western cultural references, but it is a mistake to think that one can understand his novels without knowing a lot about Japan.
In this book there is a theme that seems to have reference to a Japanese cultural phenomenon where young people wall themselves up in their rooms and become totally uncommunicative - you need to understand that to see what is going on with one of the characters - Eri.
Other themes explored in the book are Murakami's obsession with a kind of dualism, where we have alter egos beyond our control (like the murderer of Kafka's father in "Kafka on the shore") He seems to link this with influence of animal spirits, and I can only suppose that is some kind of reference to japanese mysticism (Shinto perhaps?)
There is also bad sex as usual, with the love hotel theme which divorces sex from love and commitment. At least in this novel we are invited to see that this divorce is directly related to the evils of the attack described therein.
The whole narrative takes place in real time through the course of one night.
The problem with Murakami (other than the difficulty presented to readers not steeped in Japanese culture) is that his books really are trying too hard to be surreal and metaphorical. I read Kafka on the Shore first, and felt it was trying too hard - but now I feel that book was the best of the three I have read!
In this book the surrealism is just tagged on. It doesn't seem to have any reason for being there. The watcher in Eri's room... what is that all about? Frankly, I don't care! If a book requires so much work to interpret, then no two people will interpret it the same. Some people don't mind that, but what I want to know is what the author is telling me.
I don't need to read this book to know what I am thinking myself. A clear message still requires thought from the reader. Do we agree? What can we add? But works that defy understanding and jump around between realism and the surreal - well these are a lot of work for little reward.
Of course Murakami has his supporters, and many people will love the surrealism, the lack of conclusion, the dropped threads, the moral relativism, and of course the little in jokes (room 404 is surely a reference to the HTTP error code for "page not found").
So if you like Murakami or any of the above - read this book. Otherwise your time would be better spent with something else.
The one saving grace - the reason this gets two stars and not one - is that the book is short. Much shorter than "Kafka on the Shore", or the 'Wind up Bird Chronicle". It may be a waste of time reading it - but it won't be such a huge waste of time.
on 19 December 2011
After Dark is a novel set within a seven hour period, commencing a few minutes before the strike of midnight. With scenes set amongst the backstreets of downtown Tokyo, its pace beautifully captures the slow, stretched out feel of the nighttime.
Highly detailed characters are, ultimately, richly exposed to the reader through a trickle of vividly naturalistic observations, expressive behaviour, meaningful interplay and effective dialogue.
In fact, it takes most of the narrative to discover who the reclusive, bookish, thoughtful main character Mari really is; her background, her fears, her dreams and the depth of connection to her sister Eri.
When combined with Haruki's skilful prose, clear voice, scrupulously crafted atmospheric scenes and volumes of unspoken mystery, it's a technique that ensures we're always immersed, always keen to turn the page.
There are many writing devices and traits at work. Chapters entitled with an ever-increasing time - to denote the advancement of the night. Pronounced shortening of chapter length as the story concludes - to enact rapid scene change and raising the tension. Using a narrator voice when visiting a scene with mystical, dreamlike viewpoints - to endow a movie director like quality. An inconclusive ending - resolution
Its a novel immediately identifiable, albeit in a fascinatingly illusive manner, as a Haruki Murakami story, and a highly recommended read.
on 21 January 2010
Murakami delivers his exceptional flavour of alienation in this original book. Although not quite as involved as some of his other books, i.e. "Kafka" or "Hardboiled", there is no dilution of character or story. This is rather a snapshot of a single night between roughly midnight and dawn, written in an incredibly fluid real-time.
The characters are believable and sympathetic, as well as being wonderfully enigmatic. The prose is stylish and inspiring, but perhaps not to everybody's taste. The author's voice is particularly strong in this one and if the first page puts you off, you may or may not get over it to enjoy the rest of this heartbreaking story.
There's the usual twist of the bizarre, but it is not as macabre as some of his other tails. The character is the focus, and although this is perhaps a postmodern experiment in "extended flash fiction" there is no loss of life (in the sense of characterisation - I wouldn't spoil the plot!).
The threads of the stories come together with great emotion. There is an underlying feeling of power to Murakami's words in this one - it almost induces genuine panic or heartbreak or hope, despite being such a fast read.
Very beautiful, however if you want more substance to story rather than character perhaps seek out "Kafka" or "South of the Border" if you haven't already read them.
7 / 10
Author of "Half Discovered Wings"
on 23 February 2015
I have read many works by Haruki Murakami and this one to me really stood out as a favourite.
The novel is only a couple of hundred pages long and is set in a single night, which, as one would expect, means the book really rips along a quite a pace (unusually for a Murakami Novel).
The book revolves the central character of Mari Asai, a 19-year-old student, who is spending the night reading and her sister Eri who is locked in a strangely deep sleep.
The book revisits familiar Murakami themes of sex, violence, alienation, music and the blurring distinction between reality and dreams. There is a deep sense of melancholy which accompanies much of the book and will feel familiar to anyone who has been awake alone late at night. One gets the sense that all the characters are in a sense sleep walking (not just Eri) and are all haunted by something they cannot escape from.
I must say I found the book genuinely gripping, especially the scenes involving Eri who is haunted by an ominous looming figure and a television which shows static. The scene is really one of classic horror and something that stuck with me after I put the book down.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone (and have)!
on 7 April 2016
This was my first Murakami novel and I think it's safe to say it gave me a very good idea about why he's so well-known, both in his native Japan and out of it.
The book follows the entwining paths of several characters who navigate the city at night, either working, playing or simply passing the time until dawn breaks. Our leading character, Mari Asai, is sitting quietly in a diner when a young man bursts into her little world. From there we follow the mysterious illness that plagues Mari's beautiful older sister Eri, who seems to be in a fairytale-like sleep only she can wake herself from, the mysterious attack on a prostitute in a love hotel, a quirky young man by the name of Takahashi and the workers of the love ho. Although not all of the points in the plot are neatly concluded, there is something inherently absorbing and memorable about Murakami's work that leaves you thinking about it long after you've put the book down. He perfectly captures the deep hopes, fears and thoughts of these seemingly everyday people who all hold some kind of secret inside themselves. In the cover of darkness they are able to try and gain some understanding of their personal problems, and forge connections along the way.
on 6 June 2011
Having spoken to other fans of Murakami, I've gained the impression that many readers see this as one of Murakami's less engaging books, chiefly because, according to these readers, it lacks a plot. I've also encountered the comment that Murakami's decision to write in the third rather than first person prevents the book from having quite the same personal dimension as his other books, especially when these other books exhibit common motifs - namely the middle-aged cynical man whose ordinary existence of interrupted by a seemingly random event - which do not seem to make an appearance in this book.
For me, however, this is Murakami's best work. The basic reason for this is that I feel that no other author or book by Murakami quite manages to capture the atmosphere and mood of staying up through the night in quite the same way. I say this as a university student who finds that they work best at night and who loves spending the long hours alone - apart from the sound of jazz - before finally having breakfast and watching the streets of my university city murmur to life before going to bed. Murakami captures the strangeness of the long night spent wide awake, he captures the events that happen at night that go unnoticed by people who, for one reason or another, have lives that, owing to their comparative ordinariness, do not force or allow them to stay up at night and read in a fast food place. I find that this book is at once a work of realism and a break with the standard novel - the former, because of Murakami's expert handling of the atmosphere of night, the latter, because this book does not seem to have a plot in the ordinary sense of the word, in that the main character does not noticeably overcome any personal challenges or change as a person during the course of the individual, and there are dilemmas and questions that are allowed to remain unaddressed. The narrative structure, whereby the chapters lack titles (again, unlike other Murakami books) but mark the time, was, for me, inseparable from the overall mood of the book.
I listened to the jazz artist Joanna Wang whilst reading this book, because I enjoy listening to jazz whilst up at night, and both the artist and the book are now bound together in my psyche.
on 9 May 2015
This is my first Murakami book, and I’m very disappointed. I felt like giving up reading it, but I kept an open mind and persevered to the end. Unfortunately there was no reward.
If you would like to read a book with a story, this one isn’t for you. If you would like to read a book describing and analysing thoughts and camera angles in an artistic way, this one is for you.
I read a fair amount of translated fiction, and Murakami is one of those writers I feel like I ought to like, but the few times I've tried, just haven't connected with. This latest novella seemed like another chance to check him out without a huge investment of time. The last book of his I read was his collection of short stories After the Quake, which were unified by common themes of alienation and loneliness. Those themes are dominant in this brief story as well.
Set in night-time Tokyo, the book often feels much more like a script for a moody film than it does a work of fiction. Many passages adopt a first-person omniscient voice, written in the style of a script, directing the camera and describing what it/we see. After a while this gets annoying, and made me wish that Murakami had just gone ahead and made a film if that's what he wanted to do. The storyline, such as it is, is arranged around the coincidental intersections of people, which calls to mind the structure of recent films such as (Short Cuts, Crash, Magnolia, Babel, Amores Perros, etc.) where we follow characters in and out of each others lives.
These characters include: Mari, a 19-year-old sitting in a diner reading the night away, Takahashi, a 20-something trombone player who recognizes her from high school, Karou, the ex-wrestler manager of a love hotel, a Chinese hooker who's badly beaten at the hotel, Korogi, a mysterious handyman at the hotel, Shirakawa, the nondescript but disturbed salaryman who beat the hooker, the hooker's mysterious motorcycle-riding boss, and finally Mari's model sister Eri, who is stuck in some kind of prolonged Sleeping Beauty-like slumber. The final character is Tokyo itself, which like these nocturnal people, is still awake but somewhat surreal.
Once again, Murakami seems fixated on creating a mood rather than a narrative. One gets a good sense of the characters and the strange ambiance of the night, but it doesn't lead anywhere particularly interesting. Once again, alienation and loneliness are the main themes -- but all these tales of missed connections can only take you so far before you start wanting something more substantial. I suspect, however, that ultimately, Murakami just isn't for me. (Neither, for that matter, is the "other" Murakami, Ryu, whose graphically violent books focus on the same themes, but in a very different manner.)
on 30 May 2011
I seem to be very good at the moment at choosing novels that are very difficult to write a proper review for, and this is definitely one of them. It was interesting, and will certainly have provided me with something to mull over and think about for many days to come, mostly to try and decipher what the events of the novel were supposed to mean - to decipher the 'hidden meaning' behind it all.
For me the novel read very well, and it seemed in some places to be written almost as stage directions in a script for a theatrical production. I found it especially fascinating that the reader should be directly addressed and that we should be given a place next to the narrator, so we are not seeing things through their eyes, as would be normal for such a novel, but we are drawn into the novel and are experiencing the events apparently for ourselves. This adds a slightly surreal touch to the novel that is not unpleasant.
Another truly original and unique work of art from the spectacular Haruki Murakami.